The mean predicted decrease of 0.3–0.4 pH units in the global surface ocean by the end of the century has prompted urgent research to assess the potential effects of ocean acidification on the marine environment, with strong emphasis on calcifying organisms. Among them, the Mediterranean red coral (Corallium rubrum) is expected to be particularly susceptible to acidification effects, due to the elevated solubility of its Mg-calcite skeleton. This, together with the large overexploitation of this species, depicts a bleak future for this organism over the next decades. In this study, we evaluated the effects of low pH on the species from aquaria experiments. Several colonies of C. rubrum were long-term maintained for 314 days in aquaria at two different pH levels (8.10 and 7.81, pHT). Calcification rate, spicule morphology, major biochemical constituents (protein, carbohydrates and lipids) and fatty acids composition were measured periodically. Exposure to lower pH conditions caused a significant decrease in the skeletal growth rate in comparison with the control treatment. Similarly, the spicule morphology clearly differed between both treatments at the end of the experiment, with aberrant shapes being observed only under the acidified conditions. On the other hand, while total organic matter was significantly higher under low pH conditions, no significant differences were detected between treatments regarding total carbohydrate, lipid, protein and fatty acid composition. However, the lower variability found among samples maintained in acidified conditions relative to controls, suggests a possible effect of pH decrease on the metabolism of the colonies. Our results show, for the first time, evidence of detrimental ocean acidification effects on this valuable and endangered coral species.
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